Art Cohn, Lockport, NY
As the name implies, Lockport is all about the locks on the canal.
One of the great engineering challenges facing the canal builders was to figure out a way over and through the Niagara Escarpment. This natural feature caused the land to rise some 60 feet approximately 30 miles east of Lake Erie. The solution the engineers came up with was to build a stairway of five locks followed by the “deep cut” through several miles of solid rock just west of the top of the locks. It gave Lockport its reason to being and suggested a name for the town dominated by this, “flight of five” locks.
French’s 1824 Gazetteer of the State of New York calls Lockport, “one of the creations of the Erie Canal…the canal here descends the terrace called the Mountain Ridge, or Ontario Heights, by 5 double combined Locks, each 12 feet descent, to the Genesee level. …In May 1821, there were but 2 buildings in what is now the Post-Village of Lockport. On the 1st of Jan. 1823, the era of this work, it has 1200 inhabitants, and 250-300 buildings, a printing-office and a weekly newspaper, 12 stores, 24 mechanic’s shops, 5 law-offices, 8 physicians, 8 inns, 4 schools, 1 meeting house, [for Friends] and had preparations making for a Baptist church. Note. In June, 1823, the actual population, exclusive of laborers on the canal, was 1448; 400 buildings.”
Lockport became a much illustrated example of the skill and problem solving of the early American canal engineers and the locks and water power helped create great prosperity in the community. The original locks were expanded to the five masonry locks we see today and are one of the great symbols of the revitalization occurring all along the New York State canal system. The recent restoration of two of the stone locks to operational condition and the creation of the Erie Traveler by the Buffalo Maritime Center now helps demonstrate how the old locks worked, and is fueling new interest in the Canal Bicentennial. Plans to restore a third lock and to re-develop the Erie Canal Museum located between the “Flight of Five” and the new locks 34 and 35 will be a great enhancement when completed. Adapting the hydraulic power-tunnel system on the mountain, the very popular Lockport Locks & Erie Canal Cruises and new plans to offer the adventure sport of Zip-Lining all have added to Lockport’s energy and revitalization.
Lockport will play a central role in interpreting the Erie Canal and the genius of the early canal builders in overcoming the obstacles and building the most successful public works project in the world.